Hello reading friends!
Writers are advised to read within their own genre, but also to read widely, and I think you’ll agree I have a real mix of books to share this month. Two book clubs reads, a twisty thriller, an uplifting generational novel, as well as a beautiful non-fiction offering.
Also, be sure to drop by on the 15th February when I’ll be enjoying an author Heart-to-Heart with Noelle Harrison, discussing her latest novel, The Boatman’s Wife.
In the meantime, stay safe and happy reading!
AMERICANAH by CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
I was delighted when my book group chose Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as their January read, as it’s a book that has been on my to-be-read pile for a while. The novel opens in military-ruled Nigeria, where Ifemelu and Obinze grow close at college, but their dream is to reach America and enjoy the opportunities they believe the West has to offer.
Americanah is an astute, perceptive novel filled with layers. It can be read as a straight-forward love story, about a young couple torn between their love for one another and their desire for what they hope might be a better life. But it is also as a feminist read, as Adichie exposes the sexism that, at times, accompanies racism. However, whichever theme speaks to the reader, it is impossible to read Americanah and not consider the impact of the clash of cultures. I found myself looking at America and London with new eyes, and surely that is part of the purpose of reading – to experience life afresh.
On a lighter note (and the serious messages are told with humour), I was intrigued by the focus on hair, and the time and effort and thought that went into hair braiding, the choice of relaxant, whether or not to opt for a natural style. I am glad this was chosen as a book group read, as it is a brilliant book to discuss. Also, several of my book group recommended Purple Hibiscus, which I hope to read soon.
THE CHALET by CATHERINE COOPER
It is a while since I’ve read a twisty whodunnit, but the alpine setting of Catherine Cooper’s thrilling debut was so appealing that I couldn’t resist. Two, not particularly likeable, self-absorbed couples find themselves snow-bound in a luxury chalet. However, when a body is found, secrets are uncovered and cracks in their relationships appear.
This is a dual timeline novel that flips back and forth over twenty years. There are a number of unexpected turns but also one major one that spins everything the reader thinks they know on its head. It’s a quick, enjoyable read, although the plot relies fairly heavily on coincidence, but the descriptions of the mountain setting make up for any weakness in the storyline.
As someone who learned to ski as a challenge for my fortieth birthday, the description of how it feels to be an adult learner were spot on. The fear of everything – the cable cars, the tows, the mountains. How clumsy all the kit feels – the boots, the skis, the poles, the layers upon layers of clothing. The tears! Cooper writes this brilliantly. A solid debut, and fast-paced, escapist read.
EUDORA HONEYSETT IS QUITE WELL, THANK YOU by ANNIE LYONS
I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of Annie Lyon’s, The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett (known as Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You in the UK) in November’s Children in Read, raising money for the BBC Children in Need Appeal. The premise sounded heartening, perfect for a children’s charity auction.
Eudora Honeysett is eighty-five and done with living, determined to approach death on her own terms, until a new family move next door and she strikes up an unlikely friendship with ten-year-old, Rose. Their relationship is not without its teething difficulties, but the fun and novelty Rose sweeps into Eudora’s life is joyous. A reminder to keep embracing the new, whatever our age and circumstance. It’s a dual timeline novel, flicking back and forth between Eudora’s childhood during WW2 then young adulthood, and the present day. It is a gentle, uplifting read, and who doesn’t need one of those right now? Recommended for lovers of Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.
BELOVED by TONI MORRISON
Beloved by Toni Morrison was my book group’s December read, but it didn’t fit with my Christmas book reviews, so I am sharing it now. It is the story of Sethe, a young woman who escapes the horrors of slavery, only to be confronted with demons of another kind. This was my most challenging read of 2020, in a number of ways. Firstly, Beloved has a complicated structure, so I was unsure for some time as to who Beloved was – a real child, a ghost? I was also confused by the grandmother being named Baby Suggs.
However, listening to Toni Morrison being interviewed by Harriet Gilbert on the BBC World Service, World Book Club podcast, helped me understand the novel better. It’s based on the true story of Margaret Garner, who, rather than allow her three children to be taken as slaves, bashed one on the head and slit the throat of another. The authorities wanted to try her for murder but that would have admitted that a slave woman had responsibility for her children, so instead she was charged with theft and sent back to her master. However, unsurprisingly he couldn’t get any work out of her, so he sent her down river (down the Mississippi). During that journey she jumped overboard with her baby twice and twice she was fished out. She survived, but sadly the baby drowned. Interestingly, in the novel, Morrison names the plantation owner, Mrs Garner.
When Morrison was asked why she gave the novel such a complex structure, she explained that we don’t stay in the present. When we are hanging out washing, doing the dishes, our minds wander. So, it felt a truer way to tell the story. Also, she likes books that you can read, then return to again and again to taste and chew. As to why the grandmother is named Baby Suggs, Morrison explained the act of naming and re-naming was a way of slaves to reclaim agency over their lives. Baby was what her husband called her, and Suggs was his surname. Beloved is a harrowing read that requires thought and patience from the reader. Now I understand the construct better, I know that at some point I will read it again.
FIFTY WORDS FOR SNOW by NANCY CAMPBELL
My final review for January is of a beautiful non-fiction Christmas gift – Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell, which seems appropriate as snow is forecast for northern Scotland for most of this week. Anyway, let’s take a moment to focus on that cover – isn’t it gorgeous? And inside, separating each definition, are soft-navy blue pages, each decorated with an individual intricate snowflake design. Even the font is a delicate blue. Can you tell I adore this book?
Campbell has collated a fascinating collection of words for snow from around the globe, but this isn’t a book just for wordsmiths or language geeks. There is something for everyone as she considers the origins of words through folklore, nature, climate change and the impact of snowy landscapes on the people who inhabit them. It was tricky deciding which word to share, but I think this may be my favourite – Hundslappadrífa, which is Icelandic for ‘snowflakes big as a dog’s paw’. Fifty Words for Snow would make a brilliant coffee table book, as it’s both pretty to look at and great to dip into. Equally, I learned a lot by reading it from cover to cover. One to curl up with, as winter re-fastens its grip.